When Faith Moves Mountains

While studying abroad in Peru, I had the opportunity to go to a very interesting site in Ventanilla, Lima where the Belgian artist, Francis Alÿs had organized a performance piece in 2002. Entitled “When Faith Moves Mountains,” Alÿs had five hundred people, mainly students, move one side of a 1,600 foot sand dune to the other with shovels. At the end of the piece the whole dune was moved by a few inches. He based the idea on the paradox, “Sometimes making something leads to nothing, sometimes making nothing leads to something.” The piece is hard to categorize as it is neither sculptural nor land art, as nothing was added nor detracted from the geography. The work was focused more on the abilities of people and the willpower of the community. Upon visiting the site, the dune looks like all the other dunes in the coastal desert. There is nothing unique to the site and no one would ever know it was art unless you were previously aware. However, what was so interesting were the stories of the people who participated in the work. Having met one of the people who was part of the piece through my university, I quickly became fascinated with the work. Speaking to these volunteers, they all focused less on the outcome and more on the process. It was interesting how the artwork affected the group dynamics and increased a sense of confidence in all the people to whom I spoke. I loved the work, even visiting 8 years after the completion of the project, you could still experience it through its resulting effects on the community as they pass the story down. This oral history tradition falls in line with Peruvian culture and allows the story to continue past its original performance in a very different way than other performances, which tend to continue through videos or photographs.

Watch the process here:


2 Responses

  1. I love when an audience gets to participate, and this participation also adds the aspect of building community, an opportunity not often experienced in an artistic context. And although to an outsider, it may seem like nothing was accomplished, I’m sure the feeling was very different for those involved. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. First off, I’m going to say how jealous I am that you studied abroad in Peru! I have yet to get out of this country even on vacation. Its awesome that you actually got to meet someone who took part in such a work as well. Thats such a beautiful way to look at art, as an idea, rather then focusing on aesthetically pleasing material objects and forms. I feel a lot of artists today still focus on having something visual to show the viewer in order to feel that it was a successful piece worth presenting to the public. I used to focus all of my artworks the same way; I just wanted the to look good. This year though I learned that the visual aspect means close to nothing unless there is a well thought out reason for each and every individual part of the whole finished piece. Its hard for me to even grasp the fact that the piece you spoke of is completely an idea and that there is nothing visible about it to people who weren’t there at the time.

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